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Suspected key al-Qaida operative arrested Saturday

Sunday, March 16, 2003

LAHORE, Pakistan -- Building on information from a captured lieutenant of Osama bin Laden, Pakistani authorities captured another suspected key al-Qaida figure Saturday -- a man U.S. government sources say oversees communication among the terror network's operatives.

The suspect, Yassir al-Jaziri, was arrested in the eastern city of Lahore, Pakistan's Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told The Associated Press, saying al-Jaziri is among the leading terrorists wanted by the United States.

American government sources familiar with the arrest confirmed al-Jaziri was captured by Pakistani authorities near Lahore on Saturday. He is not on the FBI's most-wanted list.

U.S. and Pakistani forces have intensified their search for al-Qaida's leadership -- including bin Laden himself -- in Pakistan since the group's suspected No. 3 man, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, was arrested March 1. Security forces have been combing the region along the Afghan border for bin Laden after Mohammed told his interrogators he met the terror chief there recently.

Ahmed told AP that information garnered from Mohammed led to the arrest of al-Jaziri. The U.S. sources said American intelligence provided information that led to the arrest, but Americans did not participate in his actual capture, the sources said.

Al-Jaziri is among the two dozen most-wanted figures in al-Qaida, the sources said on condition of anonymity.

"Al-Jaziri is definitely an important al-Qaida leader and this is all I can say at this point," Interior Ministry secretary Tasneem Noorani told AP. "We understand that he is among those al-Qaida leaders wanted by the United States."

In court testimony during the trial for suspects in the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings, an al-Qaida informant spoke of a man with the same name. The witness described him as a travel documents handler with the organization in the early 1990s, when it was based in Sudan.

Court documents describe Al-Jaziri as an Algerian-Moroccan dual national responsible for al-Qaida's business interests. But it was not immediately known where al-Jaziri stands in the hierarchy of the al-Qaida network.

Al-Jaziri's name also surfaced last month at a court hearing in Lahore for Ahmed Javed Khawaja, a naturalized American doctor, who is in police custody for alleged ties to al-Qaida.

Intelligence sources said a number of documents were found at the home where al-Jaziri was arrested, as well as a computer and compact discs. It wasn't immediately known what was on the discs. The Pakistani family he had been staying with was being interrogated, but Ahmed said they were not under arrest.

Mohammed is believed to have been the mastermind behind the Sept. 11 attacks and was the most significant al-Qaida arrest since the war on terror started in October 2001.

While thousands of Pakistani police and some U.S Special Forces comb the Afghan border and the mountains of eastern and southwestern Afghanistan for fugitive al-Qaida operatives, the big catches have been made in Pakistani cities. Mustafa al-Hisawi, a suspected financier of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, also was arrested with Mohammed.

On Sept. 11, 2002, Ramzi Binalshibh, believed to be a would-be hijacker who could not get into the United States, was captured in the southern port city of Karachi. He was an aide to Mohammed and accused of being a key moneyman for the attacks, and was the former roommate of hijacker Mohammed Atta.

In March 2002, Pakistani police and FBI arrested Abu Zubayda, a senior al-Qaida lieutenant in the Pakistani city of Faisalabad.


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